Washington Wizards: Spencer Dinwiddie should be priority #1 in free agency

Washington Wizards Spencer Dinwiddie Bradley Beal. Mandatory Credit: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports
Washington Wizards Spencer Dinwiddie Bradley Beal. Mandatory Credit: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports /

It’s no hyperbole to say that the Washington Wizards pulled off a franchise-saving maneuver on draft day by trading Russell Westbrook to the Los Angeles Lakers for Kyle Kuzma, Montrezl Harrell, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, and a 2021 first-round pick. For the second offseason in a row, Tommy Sheppard dealt a seemingly “immoveable contract” and now has the opportunity to build a real, coherent roster around Bradley Beal. Despite that, things are currently as muddled as ever. Only two definites can be penciled into the starting lineup right now:

  • Bradley Beal at the shooting guard
  • Kentavious Caldwell-Pope at the small forward

Aaron Holiday will surely get the first crack at backup point guard minutes, while the center spot appears to be a Daniel Gafford/Montrezl Harrell(?) platoon, with Thomas Bryant on the recovery path. After that, Washington has a crowded group of players competing for minutes on the wing. Rui Hachimura — who has always been a dubious fit — can be the assumed starter. Then things get messy.

As you can see, the roster is still imbalanced. Who is the second-shot creator on this team? Who defends point guards if Caldwell-Pope indeed starts at the three? Why would you draft a 22-year old in Corey Kispert without a clear role for him? Tons of questions and no logical answers. Which tells me another move(s) is coming. And if the Wizards do make another move, they should make one for Spencer Dinwiddie of the Brooklyn Nets.

The Washington Wizards need to make Spencer Dinwiddie priority #1 as they look for their new point guard.

Spencer Dinwiddie — the name that’s been consistently linked to Washington — would also be at the top of my list. Dinwiddie as the starting point guard may seem like a reach at first glance. Surround Bradley Beal with another iffy three-point shooter (31.8 percent for his career) at point guard, who’s coming off a second ACL-tear? Plus, this deal would need to center around a sign-and-trade with Brooklyn — thus triggering the hard cap for 2021-22 and eschewing any financial flexibility.

But Dinwiddie is talented enough that I believe Wes Unseld Jr. and the Wizards could make it work. First off, he’s a tank. In his last two full seasons, Dinwiddie was one of the most prolific drivers in the league, converting on a robust 61.9 percent of his shots around the rim. His foul-drawing rate landed in the 100th percentile amongst guards over that span, per Cleaning the Glass. These paint touches would be key for the new-look Wizards. Secondary players like Caldwell-Pope and Deni Avdija are much stronger suited to attack closeouts than initiate themselves.

Spencer Dinwiddie is a cleaner fit with Beal when you dig further. For his career, Dinwiddie is 134-372 (36.0 percent) on spot-up three-pointers, as opposed to 173-589 (29.4 percent) on pull-ups,  which drag down the overall percentages. Check out his shooting splits from the 2019-20 season (his last healthy one) when paired with another ball-dominant creator, Kyrie Irving.

Defensively, Dinwiddie is a mixed bag. He has the ability to guard multiple positions thanks to his strong frame and a 6’8.25″ wingspan, but his engagement is spotty. Watch here as he makes no effort to “get skinny” over the screen or meet Jaylen Brown under it. He’ll have lapses from time to time off-ball as well. A three-guard alignment of Dinwiddie, Beal, and Caldwell-Pope could toggle reasonably well between most perimeter matchups.

Dinwiddie is also dynamic enough to buoy second units, should Holiday (or whoever else the team brings in) fail in that regard. During the 2018-19 season, Dinwiddie somehow elevated the Nets’ attack when both Caris LeVert and D’Angelo Russell sat (from a 109.7 Offensive Rating to 111.5). His numbers during those times: 26.2 points and 7.8 assists per 36 minutes, 60.5 percent True Shooting.  With Dinwiddie in the fold, the Wizards likely wouldn’t have to worry about the offense cratering without Beal, unlike last year…

Inking Spencer Dinwiddie to a long-term deal would still have its downsides, of course. The injury history is concerning, particularly given his age (two months older than Beal) and aggressive playstyle. Plus, he’s not very adept at tossing lob passes (due to his loopy arm strokes as a ball-handler). That could become a problem considering Gafford and Bryant are currently play-finishers. What exactly is the ceiling of a Dinwiddie-Beal backcourt, surrounded by a bundle of role players? If Beal doesn’t agree to an extension in March, the franchise suddenly risks losing him for nothing in 2022: a doomsday scenario.

But this is the Washington Wizards we’re talking about, and anything away from the purgatory of 2019 to 2021 is a step in the right direction. It’s not like any of the three top-dogs (Chris Paul, Mike Conley, Kyle Lowry) would consider coming here. Beal — who’s become better than even the most optimistic could imagine — has amassed gaudy numbers while residing on the cold fringes of the NBA world. It’s time to surround him with competence and see what happens. Parting ways with Scott Brooks and Westbrook were steps 1A/1B. Now let’s get Spencer Dinwiddie.

Backup plans for the Washington Wizards:

Most of the other names that have been bandied about — free agents such as Lonzo Ball, Patty Mills, or trade targets like George Hill, Dejounte Murray, Terry Rozier — don’t move the needle for me, at least as starters. None of those guys are qualified/best utilized as primary or even secondary options offensively. In that case, Bradley Beal would need to do it all  — which nobody (not even him) wants to see. I’d much rather bring back Tomas Satoransky (assuming the Bulls waive him) for one-quarter of the cost. Here are some potential free agent alternates to Dinwiddie that the Wizards could explore:

  • Eric Gordon: rarely healthy but has shown to be a high-level two-way guy in the playoffs. His three-point bombing was critical to the Rockets’ success in their heyday, as was his ability to slash to the rim.
  • Derrick White: another oft-injured player who still may have some untapped upside with spacing around him, and if the bubble shooting wasn’t just a mirage.

Now, let’s get (semi) crazy…

  • Bogdan Bogdanovic: the Hawks were reportedly listening to offers on him before, and the team has a major glut of play-makers. Other suitors likely could offer more than Washington, though.
  • Pascal Siakam: another distressed asset. This wouldn’t help the team’s shooting, but it’s a major upgrade in talent. Even at his worst, Siakam is still a defensive monster with driving verve and play-finishing. What does the presence of newly-drafted Scottie Barnes mean for his future in Toronto? Masai Ujiri has also basically never lost a trade, so beware.
  • Kemba Walker: Just two years ago, Walker was the best offensive player on an Eastern Conference Finals team. Now, he’s toiling away in the Chris Paul/Al Horford zone as a member of the Thunder. Should the Wizards strikeout, he could be worth a buy-low gamble.

These players have all experienced great success in this league, but between a decline in performance, injury risk, and bloated contracts, there’s a reason why they should be backup plans to Spencer Dinwiddie, in my opinion. After that, there are the mid-level exception candidates such as Reggie Jackson and Derrick Rose — who mostly profile as backups at this stage of their careers. The Washington Wizards surely aren’t done; let’s see what Tommy Sheppard has next up his sleeve.

Next. Wizards draft Corey Kispert at #15. dark